Photography Vocabulary 101

If you’re new to digital photography, all of the photography lingo can sound like Greek.  So, here’s a list of the commonly used terms and very simple definitions of what they mean.

  • Point and Shoot – a small camera, the kind that can fit in your pocket
  • DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) – larger more expensive cameras which have a body which you can attach different lenses to, used by professionals but also by hobbyists as well
  • Megapixels – the number of little dots that make up an image taken by a camera; commonly misinterpreted to be the biggest determinant of camera quality by consumers
  • ISO – the sensitivity of the sensor to light; higher ISO can help to take pictures in low light settings but can also cause noise
  • Aperture – how large the opening is that lets light into the camera; larger aperture can help create shallow depth of field
  • F-Stop – measurement of aperture; smaller F-Stop equals larger aperture and vice versa
  • Depth of Field – refers to how deep the plane of a photo is which is in focus; a photo with a shallow depth of field has a blurry background
  • Shutter Speed – how long the camera keeps the shutter open to take a picture; slow shutter speeds can cause blurry photos but can also be used for stylistic purposes
  • Aperture Priority (Av) – mode on DSLR where you select the aperture and the camera automatically determines shutter speed and ISO
  • Shutter Priority (Tv) – mode on DSLR where you select the shutter speed and camera automatically determines the aperture and ISO
  • Manual (M) – mode on DSLR where you select the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO
  • RAW – a photo file format which must be processed on a computer before the photo can be printed or shared; allows greater flexibility during post-processing but is a larger file
  • JPEG – the most common photography file type; photos are instantly ready to be shared after being taken but can still be processed; smaller files than RAW and not as many adjustments can be made in post-processing
  • Post-Processing – making adjustments to the photo which was taken; common adjustments include cropping, adjusting brightness, colors, and contrast; popular post-processing programs include Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements), Lightroom, Aperture, and Picasa
  • Photoshop – the most popular photo editing program; images which have been digitally altered are often referred to as “photoshopped”
  • Full Frame Sensor – A DSLR with a sensor the same size as 35mm film camera
  • Crop Sensor – cameras with smaller sensors than 35mm film cameras resulting in an image which is cropped compared to taking a photo in a full frame camera with a lens of the same focal length
  • Focal Length – measured in mm; think of it as similar to zoom in point and shoot cameras, larger focal lengths in lenses are like larger zoom
  • Wide Angle Lens – lenses with small focal length (35mm and under), used for shooting large scenes, like landscapes or buildings
  • Telephoto Lens – lenses with large focal length (85mm and over), used for shooting smaller objects or objects a long ways away
  • Lens Hood – a piece of plastic which screws on to the end of the lens to block the sun and prevent glare on the lens
  • White balance – camera adjusts what it thinks white (and thus the other colors) should look like based on what type of light you are shooting in
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) – a type of photography in which multiple photos of different exposures are combined to form an image which is able to display both very bright and very dark areas properly exposed in the same image
  • Flickr ( – A popular photo sharing site where people upload their photos to share them with others

Lots of exciting stuff coming up soon, including a photo video from France, technical articles on ISO, aperture, and shutter speed (all made as simple as possible), and things pros say which you shouldn’t listen to as a new photographer.  Until next time, happy shooting.

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